Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was among three people killed in an attack on a humanitarian convoy on Monday near the city of Goma, aid groups and Italy’s Foreign Ministry said, the latest in a wave of violence in that part of the central African nation.
The ambassador, Luca Attanasio, was killed alongside an Italian embassy official named by the foreign ministry as Vittorio Iacovacci and a driver for the World Food Program. All were in a car that was part of a convoy of vehicles headed north to a food initiative at a school.
The World Food Program said the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” and said it would be working with the local authorities to determine the details of the attack.
Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister, learned the news during a meeting in Brussels and left early to return to Rome. Mr. Di Maio expressed “immense sorrow for what happened,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Two civil servants were violently taken away from us while carrying out their duties,” the ministry said. “The circumstances of this brutal attack are yet to be known, but no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.”
Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Draghi, sent out a note expressing “his deep condolences and that of the government for the tragic death.”
Marie Tumba Nzeza, Congo’s minister of foreign affairs, offered her condolences on behalf of the government in a video posted on social media.
“I promise the Italian government that the government of my country will do everything in its power to find out who is behind this despicable murder,” she said.
The area of Congo where the attack took place, North Kivu Province in the east of the country nestled against the border with Rwanda, is known as a hotbed of violent activity, and is home to a tangled web of dozens of armed groups.
Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, the governor of North Kivu, said that the attack had taken place in an area where the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda had been operating for a long time, but that investigations were continuing. The group is one of the largest foreign armed groups in the country, a rebel group with links to 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
“According to initial investigations, they were killed by a group of six people who spoke Kinyarwanda,” the governor said in a telephone interview, referencing the language spoken in Rwanda.
The convoy was headed from Goma to Rutshuru, a town about 45 miles north, on a route that would have taken the vehicles through Virunga National Park, though it is unclear where exactly the attack occurred. The World Food Program said that a number of other people were injured in the attack.
The attack comes as a wave of violence has engulfed the area in recent weeks, with a deadly attack by a different militia in Virunga National Park leaving six people dead last month.
Virunga, Africa’s first national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, is known as the home of the region’s famed, and endangered, mountain gorillas. But the North Kivu region has also been the scene of regular violence, as spillover from the conflict between the government and militia groups, as well as the fallout of neighboring conflicts, have played out there.
Last year, 17 people were killed in another attack in Virunga, one of the deadliest in the park in recent years, which was also believed to have been carried out by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
In the years since it gained independence in 1960, after a brutal colonial period, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been wracked by civil wars and for decades by the rule of a succession of corrupt dictators.
The country experienced it first peaceful democratic transfer of power after independence in January 2019, when President Felix Tshisekedi was elected, but the process was widely criticized as fraudulent.
The United Nations mission, known by the acronym MONUSCO, has been active in the country since 2010, after taking over from an earlier peace mission that had been in place since 1999. It has been gradually drawing down the presence of its troops in hopes of handing over security work to the Congolese authorities.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, one of the central bodies of the European Union, said in a post on Twitter he was “shocked by the attack on a convoy” and at the lives lost, including those of the Italian ambassador and a soldier.
“Security and peace must be assured,” he wrote.
Tributes also began to pour in for Mr. Attanasio from across the diplomatic community.
“I mourn the death of Luca, killed in an ambush near Goma: I’ve lost a colleague and generous friend,” Bart Ouvry, the European Union ambassador to Mali, wrote in a post on Twitter, offering his condolences to Mr. Attanasio’s wife and three daughters. “During my tenure in the D.R.C., he supported me at all times, including in the most difficult moments.”
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